It is vital that the public has trust and confidence in the police. Without this the police cannot perform their duties.
The vast majority of police staff perform their jobs with the highest standards of integrity. Unfortunately a minority do not which has been highlighted by police actions at Hillsbrough, the deeply flawed investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and in the Northumbria Police area the convictions of PC Stephen Mitchell for raping vulnerable women with whom he had contact whilst on duty.
The police complaints system exists to ensure investigation into misconduct by service police staff. The majority of complaints are investigated by the same police force with whom the officer serves. Occasionally the Independent Police Complaints Commission (an independent public body who have a function to oversee the police complaints system) are involved at the outset in investigating complaints. This is rare due to the IPCC having limited resources.
Many question the impartiality of officers who investigate their colleagues. Fortunately appeals can often be submitted to the IPCC to challenge the findings of complaint investigations. In 2011/2012 Northumbria Police had the highest percentage of complaint appeals upheld by the IPCC (53%). Moreover often the appeal is actually decided by the police force themselves and cannot be submitted to the IPCC. It is therefore not difficult to understand a complainant’s concern when an officer’s colleague investigates the complaint, makes a decision on the outcome and decides any appeal.
The Government recognise the need for transparency and accountability to maintain confidence and trust in the police. In a consultation document recently issued by the Home Office it is proposed that Police and Crime Commissioners have the opportunity to take over the investigation of complaints. At the present time the Chief Constable investigates the complaints through her officers. The Government’s thinking is that the PCC is elected and therefore if the job is not done properly the electorate will vote the PCC out. I can see the merit in this argument. My concern is that I suspect that the vast majority of people do not know of the existence of the PCC never mind her name. At the last elections in 2012 for a PCC in the Northumbria Police area only 16% of the electorate cast a vote. Hopefully, however, more people will engage with the next election if the PCC has increased powers to ensure police accountability.
The consultation “Improving Police Integrity: Reforming the Police Complaints and Disciplinary Systems” is available to be viewed online here. It opened on the 11th December 2014 and closes on the 5th February 2015.